Many, maybe most of you, have at least dabbled in the famous Messier Catalogue as a good deep-sky starting point for your observing efforts. The problem with Charlie Messier is that his catalogue has as a primary purpose, the identification and location of objects that looked suspiciously like comets through his 3.5-inch telescope. After all, he was a world-renowned comet chaser. He did not want to waste his time looking at/for things that looked like, but were not, comets.
Comes the NGC/IC catalogues. The New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (NGC) is an astronomical catalogue of deep-sky objects compiled by John Louis Emil Dreyer in 1888. The NGC contains 7,840 objects, including galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae. Dreyer published two supplements to the NGC in 1895 and 1908, known as the Index Catalogues (IC) describing a further 5,386 astronomical objects. Thousands of these objects are best known by their NGC or IC numbers, which remain in widespread use.
13,226 is a bunch of objects, many of which are low on the exciting scale or are just plain not visible in backyard telescopes. However, some are quite spectacular and we can all enjoy them with reasonable glass and viewing conditions. The following list contains a small group of the best NGC/IC objects easily visible in late winter.
Source: RASC Finest N.G.C. Objects v2 Observing List, evening of 2023 Feb 18
Sunset 18:17, Twilight ends 19:36, Twilight begins 05:41, Sunrise 07:00, Moon rise 06:50, Moon set 16:34
Completely dark from 19:36 to 05:41. New Moon. All times local (CST).
Listing All Classes.
The minimum visual difficulty of each object is either: visible, obvious, easy, or apparent, but not difficult, challenging, very difficult, or not visible. These ratings according to Sky Tools 4 Pro based on a nominal 8-inch SCT telescope under fair to good observing conditions.
Blue Racquetball NGC 6572 18h13m12.5s +06°51'22" 8.0 02:23 08:41 15:03
Cat's Eye Nebula NGC 6543 17h58m31.3s +66°37'31" 8.3 - 08:26 -
Blue Snowball NGC 7662 23h26m58.4s +42°39'41" 8.6 05:43 13:58 22:09
Clown Face Eskimo Nebula 07h30m33.4s +20°51'51" 8.6 15:07 22:00 04:53
Blinking Planetary NGC 6826 19h45m23.3s +50°34'35" 8.8 01:11 10:13 19:19
Cleopatra's Eye NGC 1535 04h15m20.4s -12°41'02" 9.4 13:12 18:45 00:19
Turtle Nebula NGC 6210 16h45m27.0s +23°45'10" 9.7 00:12 07:13 14:18
Ghost of Jupiter Eye 10h25m53.7s -18°45'37" 8.6 19:37 00:55 06:13
NGC 281 IC 1590 00h54m08.0s +56°45'19" 6.7 05:07 15:25 01:39
h Persei Double Cluster 02h20m36.3s +57°14'15" 4.6 06:24 16:51 03:14
NGC 7027 n/a 21h07m51.2s +42°19'33" 9.6 03:26 11:35 19:49
Chi Persei NGC 884 02h23m54.9s +57°14'41" 4.7 06:27 16:54 03:18
ET Cluster Dragonfly 01h21m00.4s +58°24'36" 4.7 04:57 15:51 02:42
NGC 2244 NGC 2239 06h33m09.1s +04°55'27" 4.7 14:49 21:03 03:17
PRACTICE PATIENCE!! Spending time with each of these deep-sky wonders will pay dividends in the amount of detail you’ll see. Don’t worry about rushing out right away on a subpar night. Many of the objects on this list will linger high in the sky throughout most of the late winter and early spring.
RESEARCH!! I encourage you to perform a little research before embarking on your journey to help you understand the science behind the object and to appreciate its beauty. I have found Wikipedia to be a good source. But there are plenty of resources with more details. Track them down.
REMEMBER!! The only rules for any observation session are to embrace the challenge and to have fun!
Ex astris scientia, y’all